At this point, it feels less like speculation and more like inevitability. The Boston Celtics are one of the NBA’s beloved franchises, with a devoted base of fans who are particularly active on the internet (unlike…say…the Atlanta Hawks). Those Celtics fans over the age of 60 have been spoiled by the franchise’s historical dominance dating back to the late 1950’s. Seventeen NBA championships in all. Sixteen between 1957 and 1986. Younger Celtics fans, especially those born after 1985, have the Pierce-Garnett-Allen-Rondo years (2007-2012) to appreciate Celtics greatness. Being born in 1980 means I have foggy memories of the end of the Bird-McHale-Parish-DJ Celtics of the 80’s. It means that I came of age during an especially mediocre period of Celtics history (1993-2001) when the Celtics refused to win more than 36 games in any season, in addition to absorbing the premature death of Celtics star Reggie Lewis in 1993. Pervis Ellison? Check. David Wesley? Check. Stojko Vrankovic? Indeed. Today’s Celtics are in danger of getting stuck amid the flotsam and jetsam of the Association. Entering “Year Two” of a rebuilding project that many are hoping does not resemble the Big Dig (in which construction lasted from 1991-2006).
The NBA rumor mill in the age of Twitter is less like a mill and more like an garment factory in southeast Asia that is known to exploit its workers and spit out misshapen clothing and damaged fingers. Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, who is now the last man standing from the 2007-08 Celtics championship team, was 21 when he found himself as the lucky young starting PG in a starting lineup full of NBA legends Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. As we head toward the 2014-15 season, Rondo remains the subject of endless trade speculation, which started shortly after the Pierce-Garnett-to-Brooklyn trade last July. Recently, renowned Boston reporter Jackie MacMullan was recorded in an off-camera moment by ESPN’s “Around the Horn” crew remarking on the fact that Rondo “wants out” of Boston.
This piece of information is equivalent to kerosene on the already glowing fire of speculation. There are Celtics fans, like myself, who are pro-keeping-Rondo (either for his ability and potential leadership or the fact that the demand for Rondo on the trade market is not all that high). Then there are the trade-Rondo-yesterday fans (many influenced by the various media hype-men who never stop dreaming up trades. The truth is likely neither that Rondo is a savior or that a trade of Rondo would solve all the Celtics issues (shot-blocker, scorer, few veterans).
My issue is this: being a fan of a team becomes brutal and unbearable when impatience surrounds everything about your team. If there is a trade, okay. If there isn’t, okay. But the unending string of barely-substantiated rumors is simply deflating. If a Kevin Love trade provided a glimmer of hope for some, the fact that Love was traded to Cleveland made life harder for those hopeful Celtics fans. Rondo has been in an impossible situation for most of his career:
- He was 21 years old and asked to be the starting point guard on a championship contending team.
- He came out of college with a jump shot that was best described as a “work in progress.”
- When he emerged as a triple-double threat, he was soon after criticized for worrying too much about his assist numbers.
- When he took over several playoff series (1st Rd vs Chicago, 2009; 2nd Rd vs Cleveland, 2010) he was rightly praised for his versatility and passing genius. Soon after, he was criticized for not playing at that otherworldly level throughout the grind of the 82-game regular season.
- Throughout Rondo’s success, he was always viewed (somewhat reasonably) as the beneficiary of an uber-talented team where his weaknesses (shooting) were minimized.
- As soon as Pierce and Garnett were traded, the unfair assumption (both toward Rondo and toward GM Danny Ainge) was that Rondo would certainly be next.
- Over the last fourteen months, Rondo has been rumored to be traded 175 times*. (*note: slight exaggeration)
- Over the last fourteen months, Rondo has played 30 NBA games.
- Yes, every athlete faces unfair criticism, but the amount of heat Rondo has dealt with is entirely out-of-proportion to the amount of criticism that would have been fair.
So…instead of the question, “Will Rondo be traded?” how about the ironic statement: “Rajon Rondo has been traded…for the 175th time.” (The Onion has missed a golden opportunity)
Maybe he will be. Maybe he won’t be. Let’s wait until late October to worry about who will be on the roster this year. Try and enjoy a few months without the speculation. Defend yourself against the media machine. Is Jackie MacMullan telling the truth? Probably. Is Rondo right to deny that he wants out? Yes. Is Danny Ainge now forced to trade him? No. Because throughout the last fourteen months, Danny Ainge has been alternately laughing and pulling his gray hair out whenever a member of the media comes to him with rumors.